A loner navigates a dangerous relationship.
Bryan is a quiet, Afro–Puerto Rican sixth-grader living in Brooklyn. He enjoys comic books, video games, and keeping to himself. Pa, recently released from prison, and Bryan’s sister, Ava, encourage him to be tough. Ava mocks him for being a “momma’s boy,” and Pa tells him it’s better to be feared than liked. Ma, however, encourages Bryan to use his brains instead of his fists. Ma introduces Bryan to Mike, a slightly older black boy who uses the services at the community center where Ma works; she says he “seems nice” and “gets good grades,” and Bryan needs a friend. Soon Mike and Bryan become so close that they say they’re brothers—but Mike isn’t as good as Ma and others think. Bryan gets swept up in Mike’s influence and begins to behave badly in small ways, throwing rocks at cars from rooftops and practicing his mother’s handwriting so he can forge excuses from school. After Pa violates his parole and is arrested again, Bryan’s behavior escalates, including cutting class and hopping onto moving trains. Through Bryan’s believable, emotionally honest first-person narration, Maldonado skillfully shows a boy trying to navigate parental desires and the societal expectations of his Brooklyn neighborhood while trying to figure himself out.
Readers will be rooting for Bryan to make the right choices even as they understand the wrong ones. (Fiction. 8-12)